Introducing design to a dev team for the first time

22 May 2008 - 2:16am
6 years ago
15 replies
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martinpolley
2007

Hi all,

I am currently the tech writer for a team that develops several products
that are used internally within the company. Traditionally, these have only
had a command-line interface. Recently, though, they have started developing
GUI front-ends for these systems.

As a wannabe IxDer, I have used my position to give feedback on what they
have built, in an attempt to improve usability. But now (after I suggested
it to him), my boss wants me to take a more active role earlier on in the
development process, instead of pointing out things to be fixed after the
fact.

So my question to you is this. Where to start? What are the things I can do
*right now* that will have the greatest positive impact for the effort I
will be putting in?

Should we do usability testing to find immediate pain points that can be
fixed? Or should we do some deeper user research that will better inform all
subsequent design and development? Or should I concentrate on getting things
fixed that I already *know* need fixing (without any testing to tell me so)?

What would *you* do?

Thanks in advance,
--
Martin Polley
Technical writer, etc.
+972 52 3864280
Calendar—<http://capcloud.com/calendar>
Site—<http://capcloud.com/>

Comments

22 May 2008 - 2:39am
martinpolley
2007

Hi all,

I am currently the tech writer for a team that develops several products
that are used internally within the company. Traditionally, these have only
had a command-line interface. Recently, though, they have started developing
GUI front-ends for these systems.

As a wannabe IxDer, I have used my position to give feedback on what they
have built, in an attempt to improve usability. But now (after I suggested
it to him), my boss wants me to take a more active role earlier on in the
development process, instead of pointing out things to be fixed after the
fact.

So my question to you is this. Where to start? What are the things I can do
*right now* that will have the greatest positive impact for the effort I
will be putting in?

Should we do usability testing to find immediate pain points that can be
fixed? Or should we do some deeper user research that will better inform all
subsequent design and development? Or should I concentrate on getting things
fixed that I already *know* need fixing (without any testing to tell me so)?

What would *you* do?

Thanks in advance,
--
Martin Polley
Technical writer, etc.
+972 52 3864280
Calendar—<http://capcloud.com/calendar>
Site—<http://capcloud.com/>

22 May 2008 - 4:25am
Itamar Medeiros
2006

I do recommend taking a look at a previous thread on the lis "Raising
awareness for Interaction Design in a corporate IT company"
(http://www.ixda.org/discuss.php?post=28266).

{ Itamar Medeiros } information designer
http://designative.info/
http://www.autodesk.com/

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=29332

22 May 2008 - 4:46am
martinpolley
2007

Hi Itamar,

I do recommend taking a look at a previous thread...
>

Thanks for the link. But that thread seems to deal more with how to sell the
idea of design. Here, they are already sold (thankfully). I need to decide
what to do first to have the maximum impact (low hanging fruit, etc.).

They have worked with people from a central Human Factors Engineers group in
the past, so they have certain expectations that I will have to contend
with. For example, they are used to getting mockups of flows in PowerPoint.
So the idea of having some kind of prototype to show to stakeholders is
already there.

I guess I need to steer them toward using more appropriate tools (maybe
Visio instead of PPT at this stage; not ideal but better). And also try to
convince them of the value of putting mockups/prototypes in front of actual
users as well as stakeholders.

Any other ideas?

Thanks,

Martin

22 May 2008 - 10:17am
Michael Micheletti
2006

On Thu, May 22, 2008 at 12:16 AM, Martin <martin.polley at gmail.com> wrote:

> What would *you* do?
>

Hi Martin,

Offer to facilitate design/whiteboard sessions and volunteer to write the
design specs. You've got writing gifts so this seems a natural extension.
The dev team will be thankful because they typically love having specs but
hate writing them. As part of the design and specification process, you can
offer suggestions on interfaces. This works out especially well if you
prepare two or three different versions of wireframes ahead of time as
discussion aids. You'll never build the wireframes you bring the first time,
or maybe even the third or fourth, but be thankful - those are the wrong
solutions. You want to contribute your time to the design effort and help
the team be successful. Listen to your developers and make sure that you're
documenting information they'll use and not just something that fills in
blanks on a form and gets ignored afterwards.

Some designs you'll be able to get close by iterative refinement and an
awareness of design patterns. You'll be able to detect many usability
problems before build time if you schedule a day or two for testing a paper
prototype using random people you grabbed walking down a hallway.

If you can get a little budget for field studies to observe your existing
users work with your software this will give you valuable perspective on
their tasks and goals. It may be difficult to get permission and funding for
this initially; keep asking.

The main idea is to be a facilitator of design on the team. As you succeed
with simple concrete tasks, like preparing specification documents, you can
gradually expand your role. This will give you time to study and learn how
to do new tasks ahead of time.

Finally, if you're good with graphics, symbols, colors, visual design -
offer to contribute to this part. Otherwise some Java programmer will do it
all in the Gimp, underwhelm, and deliver code late.

Hope this helps,

Michael Micheletti

22 May 2008 - 12:14pm
erica
2008

Caveat - I am in the same position as yourself and do not in any way
consider myself an expert.

That said, I feel your strategy here is entirely dependent on how
early on in the process you are working, what your timeframe is, and
how much flexibility you have.

In my case, I am being brought in during concept stage, with the plan
to start developing the software in July, and the opportunity to
develop a new branding identity and marketing materials as well as
user assistance documentation once the software is well into
development. So I have time for all kinds of data collection from
the marketing department, and to develop user scenarios, usability
testing procedures, and eventually personas and use cases. Following
that I plan to do wireframes and paper prototypes with iterative
testing and design refinement, based on various concept models for
testing usability. In other words, I've been given the time and
leeway to go all out on not just usability testing but user
experience design including re-architecting documentation and
designing marketing materials as well as help systems.

On the other hand, you may have very little time or leeway for
usability testing. There is definitely information out there for
executing "guerilla usability testing". Certainly any testing is
worthwhile, and if you Google you will find lots of resources.

It is up to you which way you take it.

Cheers,
Erica

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Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=29332

22 May 2008 - 3:07pm
martinpolley
2007

Hi Erica,

... your strategy here is entirely dependent on how early on in the process
> you are working, what your timeframe is, and how much flexibility you have.
>

I think my timeline is going to be a bit more compressed than yours. I'm
coming into a project in the middle, where the functionality of an existing
product is being extended. So I probably will have to take a somewhat
guerrilla approach. But I certainly get the importance of usability testing,
and I'll try to incorporate it *somehow*.

And I still have to make sure the documentation is ready on time *as well*.

Thanks,

Martin

On Thu, May 22, 2008 at 8:14 PM, erica <ericamhc at gmail.com> wrote:

> Caveat - I am in the same position as yourself and do not in any way
> consider myself an expert.
>
> That said, I feel your strategy here is entirely dependent on how
> early on in the process you are working, what your timeframe is, and
> how much flexibility you have.
>
> In my case, I am being brought in during concept stage, with the plan
> to start developing the software in July, and the opportunity to
> develop a new branding identity and marketing materials as well as
> user assistance documentation once the software is well into
> development. So I have time for all kinds of data collection from
> the marketing department, and to develop user scenarios, usability
> testing procedures, and eventually personas and use cases. Following
> that I plan to do wireframes and paper prototypes with iterative
> testing and design refinement, based on various concept models for
> testing usability. In other words, I've been given the time and
> leeway to go all out on not just usability testing but user
> experience design including re-architecting documentation and
> designing marketing materials as well as help systems.
>
> On the other hand, you may have very little time or leeway for
> usability testing. There is definitely information out there for
> executing "guerilla usability testing". Certainly any testing is
> worthwhile, and if you Google you will find lots of resources.
>
> It is up to you which way you take it.
>
> Cheers,
> Erica
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=29332
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
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>

--
Martin Polley
Technical writer, etc.
+972 52 3864280
Calendar—<http://capcloud.com/calendar>
Site—<http://capcloud.com/>

22 May 2008 - 3:14pm
Michael Micheletti
2006

On Thu, May 22, 2008 at 12:28 PM, Martin <martin.polley at gmail.com> wrote:

> I get the definite impression that they are after something more visual
> that they can take and translate into the built product. Which raises
> another question: how interactive/hi-fidelity to make wireframes/prototypes?
> Whiteboard/paper? Visio with layers to simulate different page states?
> HTML/CSS/JS for something that wags and barks like the real thing? (The
> latter will require a crash course to fill in some big blanks...)
>
> They are used to receiving PPTs to illustrate interaction flows, so I guess
> anything's better than that :)
>
Ugh Visio layers, what a sadly broken feature. You've listed some good
choices. The usual criteria to select might include:
- What you know how to do
- How much time you have to do it in
- What your customer prefers
- Why you are prototyping or wireframing

For usability testing, it's great to have a working prototype. It's
perfectly acceptable during an early design stage to use a paper prototype.
A paper prototype gets done quick, finds lots of problems, is easy to work
with, low tech, cheap. No style points but big results, and early in the
project where it can really count.

Powerpoint can work for you too if needed. Flash is a great prototyping
tool, as is HTML/CSS/Javascript. There's a tendency for Flash or HTML
prototypes to end up as front end code in the app sometimes so heads up
there. Since you're introducing design into the process for the first time,
and it's a bit new to you, I'd recommend that you focus more on facilitating
design processes and communications than on higher fidelity prototypes, at
least during the early phases of the project. Good luck!

Michael Micheletti

22 May 2008 - 3:38pm
martinpolley
2007

Thanks, Michael. Those are all important factors. I didn't have it as clear
in my head as how you articulated it.

As for "what the customer prefers", I think they are open to being educated
and respect and defer to the expertise of people in fields other than their
own. (Not that I'm in any way an expert at this stage.)

There's a tendency for Flash or HTML prototypes to end up as front end code
> in the app sometimes so heads up there.

Not likely in this case, luckily. I'll be working on enhancements to an
existing project, so it will be implemented in GWT, for better or for worse.

... I'd recommend that you focus more on facilitating design processes and
> communications than on higher fidelity prototypes, at least during the early
> phases of the project. Good luck!
>

Sounds sensible. I get the impression that I am just expected to come up
with one design that will work, which the developers can then go build. So
I'll have to impress upon them that this will require *some* sort of user
input. The thing is, I'm not clear about which would better serve the
design: some sort of ethnographic research, or some kind of usability
testing. (Sure, doing both would be best, but in this situation, what would
give me more bang per buck? I think usability testing would be the easier
sell, in any case...)

Thanks,

Martin

22 May 2008 - 2:28pm
martinpolley
2007

Hi Michael,

Thank you for the wise words.

Offer to facilitate design/whiteboard sessions and volunteer to write the
> design specs.

...
> you can offer suggestions on interfaces ... prepare two or three different
> versions of wireframes ahead of time as discussion aids.
>

I get the definite impression that they are after something more visual that
they can take and translate into the built product. Which raises another
question: how interactive/hi-fidelity to make wireframes/prototypes?
Whiteboard/paper? Visio with layers to simulate different page states?
HTML/CSS/JS for something that wags and barks like the real thing? (The
latter will require a crash course to fill in some big blanks...)

They are used to receiving PPTs to illustrate interaction flows, so I guess
anything's better than that :)

If you can get a little budget for field studies...
>

I will definitely try to get them to let me do some sort of usability
testing. Something small to begin with, to prove its worth.

The main idea is to be a facilitator of design on the team.

I'll try to keep that in mind at all times.

Finally, if you're good with graphics, symbols, colors, visual design -
> offer to contribute to this part. Otherwise some Java programmer will do it
> all in the Gimp, underwhelm, and deliver code late.

Or more likely it will be the standard GWT look with a logo slapped on it :)

Thanks very much,

Martin

22 May 2008 - 4:19pm
james horgan
2008

Hi Martin, I'd talk to your CEO or whoever is in charge, show them before
and after scenarios and make a case as to why you think usability =
increased revenue. I would also do a bit of internal marketing, ensure your
team are referred to as interaction designer (never graphic designers) and
do some educational sessions on why preplanning and information architecture
add to the product and is something everyone can support.
You have to solve the internal attitude to it before you (and your
coworkers) can educate the client. I would research industrial
design history and how they got into the mix (they were seen as glorified
prettifiers before).
hope that helps.
james

On Thu, May 22, 2008 at 4:38 PM, Martin <martin.polley at gmail.com> wrote:

> Thanks, Michael. Those are all important factors. I didn't have it as clear
> in my head as how you articulated it.
>
> As for "what the customer prefers", I think they are open to being educated
> and respect and defer to the expertise of people in fields other than their
> own. (Not that I'm in any way an expert at this stage.)
>
> There's a tendency for Flash or HTML prototypes to end up as front end code
> > in the app sometimes so heads up there.
>
>
> Not likely in this case, luckily. I'll be working on enhancements to an
> existing project, so it will be implemented in GWT, for better or for
> worse.
>
>
> ... I'd recommend that you focus more on facilitating design processes and
> > communications than on higher fidelity prototypes, at least during the
> early
> > phases of the project. Good luck!
> >
>
> Sounds sensible. I get the impression that I am just expected to come up
> with one design that will work, which the developers can then go build. So
> I'll have to impress upon them that this will require *some* sort of user
> input. The thing is, I'm not clear about which would better serve the
> design: some sort of ethnographic research, or some kind of usability
> testing. (Sure, doing both would be best, but in this situation, what would
> give me more bang per buck? I think usability testing would be the easier
> sell, in any case...)
>
> Thanks,
>
> Martin
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

22 May 2008 - 9:25pm
dszuc
2005

Martin's question - "Where to start? What are the things I can do
right now that will have the greatest positive impact for the effort
I will be putting in?"

Speak to the team about key pages or flows that are in need of help
and have the greatest impact on the product. Find out where they are
hurting and where you can help.

Perhaps a quick usability review and to cross check the thinking with
the team.

When you have created some design ideas, walkthrough with the team -
http://www.uxmatters.com/MT/archives/000199.php

rgds,
Dan

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Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=29332

23 May 2008 - 1:22am
martinpolley
2007

Hi James,

Thanks for the input. In my case, the CEO is a bit distant. (It's a company
with ~100,000 employees worldwide.) My area of influence is just the
11-person development team that I belong to (and to a lesser extent, a
couple of sibling teams).

In this company, the whole UX/IxD thing is referred to as Human Factors
Engineering. An outdated term, perhaps, but as in any large organization,
things don't change overnight.

I think it's just going to be a matter of making the team leader aware of
the value of usability testing as part of the design process (i.e., testing
before actually building the thing). And we are not talking about a huge
project here. At this stage, it is just enhancements to an existing webapp,
being developed by two people.

Thanks,

Martin

23 May 2008 - 2:54am
martinpolley
2007

Hi Daniel,

I guess with "where to start", that is pretty clear (or rather, has become
so since my original post). They have said, basically "Here's what we're
adding to the product—go design it".

So whatever I do will have to be within the constraints of this particular
task, rather than me being able to pick and choose where I would like to
make improvements. I guess my refined question is "Apart from the obvious
things that I can figure out myself, should I, and *how *should I, be
integrating user research and/or usability testing into my design process?
Given very limited time, etc."

What specific things can I do to make sure that what I design will support
user goals and activities?

And thanks for the link. Great article. The blanks I am trying to fill are
in the process that *leads up* to having a design to walk though with them.

Thanks,

Martin

23 May 2008 - 3:02am
dszuc
2005

Apart from the obvious things that I can figure out myself, should I,
and how should I, be integrating user research and/or usability
testing into my design process? Given very limited time, etc."

This may have been asked - How much time available do you have to
include user research before you need to show them new designs?

rgds,
Dan

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=29332

23 May 2008 - 5:03am
martinpolley
2007

This may have been asked - How much time available do you have to include
user research before you need to show them new designs?

That's one of the first questions that I will be asking when I get back to
work on Sunday :)

Martin

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